'Bridgegate' trial begins in New Jersey three years after scandal

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[September 19, 2016]  By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) - Two former associates of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will go on trial on Monday for their alleged roles in the "Bridgegate" scandal that helped derail his presidential hopes.

U.S. prosecutors will deliver their opening statement in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, against Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor's former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The two defendants are accused of orchestrating the closure of access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 to punish a local mayor.

Christie himself has not been charged, and he has denied any knowledge of the alleged plot before it unfolded.

David Wildstein, another former Port Authority official and Christie confidante, has pleaded guilty in the case and is expected to testify for the government. He has claimed in the past that evidence exists showing Christie was aware of the scheme.

The scandal, known as "Bridgegate," came to light in January 2014, when Christie had easily won reelection as governor, and was seen as a potential front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Prosecutors will likely introduce emails and text messages between Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein in an effort to prove they deliberately arranged the lane closures as payback for Mayor Mark Sokolich. The Fort Lee, New Jersey, Democrat refused to endorse Christie's 2013 gubernatorial campaign, which was trying to garner bipartisan support. The resulting traffic jam wreaked havoc for town residents.

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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts to a question during a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey, U.S. on March 28, 2014. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo

The trial before U.S. Judge Susan Wigenton is scheduled to last approximately six weeks.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Gregorio)

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